Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - May 21, 2010

Ready to Rent

House of the Long Shadows MGM DVD 1 hr 46 mins Director: Pete Walker

by Joe Ramirez

Have you ever seen Tim Burton's first animated cartoon called "Vincent"? It's one of the director's best, filled with ghoulish humor, gothic imagery and, or course, Vincent Price, whose iconic voice perfectly captures the agony of a little boy with black, tangled hair (much like the director) who has an unnatural affinity for Vincent Price movies. As he creeps around, forever tortured, like Price's Roderick Usher, he and his dog pretend to perform wicked experiments upon unsuspecting victims, if only to be interrupted by his mother. At the center is Price's voice, resonant with age, like a knotted and hollowed ancient tree, filled with the actor's perfect balance of cheese and dread. "Vincent" was made at about the same time as Price's "House of the Long Shadows" (1983), which has recently become available at Amazon as a made-to-order DVD and is worth a look due not only to Price, but his co-stars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine, the quadruple threat of doom.

Not to bring Halloween six months early (or late), but Vincent Price is one of those iconic actors that still endures 20 years after his death. In fact, due to the DVD boom, I would say that Price is more (in)famous now than ever, due to the abundance of his movies on home video (check out the MGM Midnite Movies collection for some of his best). And how could you forget Price, with his tall stature, Guy Lombardo moustache and that weird, nasally, New Englander purr that sounds as if there is a plot behind every syllable. Price had 185 movie and TV credits to his name, starting in the late '30s playing heavies and continuing into the '40s with the same type of character - the antagonist in period clothing that was suave enough to earn sinister and neurotic to the very last frame. It was in the 1950s, however, that Price scared the baby boom generation en masse so that it entered the '60s with all his best work for Roger Corman.

"House of the Long Shadows," however, finds Price in his latter years, when his gaunt presence became a caricature, but he could still rise to the occasion. The plot of the movie and his co-stars make up for this, with writer Kenneth Magee (Desi Arnez Jr.) renting a spooky house on a bet to gain inspiration for a macabre book he has in mind. To his surprise, the house is not unoccupied, with a family reunion of sorts in progress, as several members of the Grisbane family are gathered to greet their younger brother back into the world. You see, younger brother Roderick has been locked in the attic for 40 years because of a murder he committed, with family justice presiding over his fate, and this is the night of his release. Yet young Roderick, much to everyone's dread, may have escaped already.

"House of the Long Shadows" was one of my favorite movies growing up as a kid (and that tells you what kind of kid I was, and still am). The movie has that low-budget, '80s feel, with a kind of hurry-up-and-get-there mentality and murky look (due to the DVD transfer), but it is macabre enough to wade past its presentation. In fact, the director Pete Walker seems to relish in the grotesqueness of the subject, with some good twists and turns, so like good pulp you stay glued to the very end, relishing in its cheeky guginol.

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